Archive for Tag: oral production

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Games for Vocabulary Development

Tamara Jones is an ESL Instructor at Howard Community College, Columbia, Maryland

One of my all-time favorite ELT quotes comes from Keith Folse’s 2004 book, Vocabulary Myths. He is summarizing Lewis (1993) when he points out that “[w]ithout grammar, little communication may be possible; without vocabulary, no communication is possible.” (25) This quote always reminds me of when I lived in Korea and wanted to buy rice at the little corner store. I knew the word for rice when I ordered it in a restaurant, bap, but I didn’t know that Koreans use a different word for a bag of uncooked rice. The shopkeepers kept saying they didn’t have bap. I did not believe that a corner store in Korea did not sell rice, but because I didn’t know the right word, I eventually left frustrated, perplexed and empty handed. Clearly, words are absolutely necessary for language learners.

Unfortunately, however, there is often precious little time in class devoted to vocabulary development. In fact, one of the eight myths discussed in Folse’s (2004) book is Teachers, textbooks, and curricula cover second language vocabulary adequately. Research clearly shows that if we are to help our students become more capable communicators, we need to provide them with more exposure to and practice with new words. In a previous blog, I summarize one of Folse’s TESOL presentations on the topic (Words, Words, Words) that contains some practical suggestions for helping students build their word banks. However, I also wanted to share a couple of fun games I’ve used with great success in my classes.

Joanne’s Line Up Game

Years ago, I used to work with a woman named Joanne, and I was observing a lesson of hers once in which her students played this game. I loved it so much, I’ve been using it ever since.

Before the Class

  1. Write target vocabulary (at least 1 or 2 words per student) on the board.
  2. Make sure you have several colored markers.

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Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Increasing Student Production

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland
jonestamara@hotmail.com

The title of this post sums up our raison d’être, right? I mean, pretty much the whole point of everything that we do in class is tied in to helping our students communicate (produce) more. This might mean that we want them to speak more or write more. But it doesn’t just mean more words coming out of their mouths or flowing from their pens. Production isn’t exactly the same as participation, is it? Students can participate in a group discussion, for instance, but if they are incomprehensible, they are not producing language. In other words, increasing production really means increasing students’ successful use of English.

The Importance of Pushed Production

A while ago, I had the pleasure of sitting in on a professional development workshop offered by Brad Knieriem on this very topic. The speaker, one of the full time instructors with our program, kicked off the session by having us think about why increasing production might be important. Of course, as I said before, helping students communicate more successfully is pretty much the main goal in many of my classes. But, increasing production also requires students to stretch beyond their English comfort zones.

You may already be familiar with this concept, better known as “pushed output.” (Nation & Newton, 2009) It makes sense that when students speak or write more, they become more aware of English norms. They can experiment more with new forms and they notice gaps in their linguistic abilities.

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Thursday, May 19, 2016

ESL SmackDown – Writing vs. Speaking

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland
jonestamara@hotmail.com

Several months ago, I was at a local ELT conference when I heard something I haven’t been able to shake. Eli Hinkel was delivering the plenary and somehow the topic of speaking vs. writing arose. Someone in the row behind me said, “Well, everybody knows that writing is harder than speaking.” Directly after that, I heard screeching tires. Well, in my head, anyway. What?!? Writing is harder than speaking? Everybody knows this? I remember looking around me to see if anyone else was having the OMG moment that I was, and made eye contact with my equally perturbed colleague, but everyone else was happily nodding.

While this seems to have been a given for many of the teachers in the auditorium on that sunny fall day, it wasn’t for me. Writing necessarily harder than speaking? Really? As the plenary continued, I mulled this over.

What’s so hard about writing?

What do writers have to do? Well, they have to think about grammar and vocabulary. But, then again, so do

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Thursday, October 29, 2015

A-MAZE-ing Activities are a BALL

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland
jonestamara@hotmail.com

Don’t you just love those professional development sessions when great teachers sit around and share practical teaching ideas? I always walk away with ideas for fresh ways to prompt student practice. Even better, instructors often remind me of old activities I used to use but now lie moldering in a file somewhere, and they often suggest ways to tweak these old activities for use in other lessons. That happened to me recently when I was at a PD session for instructors at the English Language Center at Howard Community College, where I work, and I walked out with one new idea and one resurrected idea.

One of the teachers talked about a way she promotes class involvement when reviewing grammatical forms. Now, I have experimented with using a ball in class before, but her take on this practice was fresh, at least to me. She bought a big cheap ball (in my mind, this would work very well with an inflatable beach ball), which she wrote target grammar prompts all over. She was working on forming questions with her class, so she had written question words on the ball. In the lesson, she had the class stand up in a circle and she tossed the ball to a random student. When the student caught the ball, she had her make a question with the question word that her thumbs were touching or closest to. So, if a student caught the ball like this,

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Monday, August 10, 2015

Going “Retro” in Grammar Class

Richard FirstenBy Richard Firsten
Retired ESOL Teacher, Teacher-Trainer, Columnist

Every few years, it seems, somebody comes up with a new approach to language teaching, a new methodology with certain strategies that will save the language-teaching world and make teaching and learning a language a total joy without anything laborious required to accomplish the goal. Well, during my 35 years plus of language teaching, I saw my fair share of these approaches and methodologies. None of them was perfect, of course. They all contained good strategies, but they had bad or impractical strategies as well. It didn’t take me too many years to realize that the best approach for me, at any rate, was to pick and choose, borrow and adapt strategies from all sorts of ways to teach and learn a language – in other words, to go eclectic. At the same time, when thinking about techniques I’d often used that got the job done, I always kept in mind that old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” So just because something was supposedly new, that didn’t mean I had to forego something tried and true and replace it with what was now in vogue. Unfortunately, I think that was what many teachers actually did.

There are two things I think worth discussing from the ELT “days of yore” that I hope many of you will keep in mind and use in your teaching approaches if you’re comfortable with them. For the most part, they’re oral/listening comprehension activities.

MMC

This approach was developed by Christina Bratt Paulston and Mary Newton, two early leaders in the field of ELT.

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Monday, June 22, 2015

Repeat After Me

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland
jonestamara@hotmail.com

How much choral repetition do your students do in your lessons? What percent of the class time is devoted to having your students repeat words and phrases in unison? If your pedagogical approach tends to be more or less along the lines of Communicative Language Teaching (CLT), your answer is probably, “Not too much.” In fact, you might even be reading this with a little grin as you think, “Well, none, of course. Choral repetition is boring and not very communicative at all. Why bother?”

That certainly was my response for many years. I felt like every moment I spent on choral repetition was time the students did not have to learn new things or communicate with each other. Besides, choral repetition is an inherently teacher-fronted activity. It’s boring, demands nothing from the students but mindlessly repeating after the teacher and brings a creepy, robotic quality to the classroom. Right?

As it turns out, no.

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Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Flat Bits in the Middle – Part 2: The Difference between Fluency and Complexity

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
EAL Instructor, British School of Brussels
jonestamara@hotmail.com

In his great book, Moving Beyond the Plateau: From Intermediate to Advanced Levels in Language Learning, Jack Richards (2008) notices that another problem that contributes to the plateau that often plagues Intermediate level students lies in the difference between fluency and complexity. Again, I can really relate to this, as a French learner. For many years, I have been in such a panic to make myself understood and just communicate my thoughts and needs. I am usually okay with the simple past tense; however, if I need to do anything harder than that, I freeze up. My French linguistic system has not yet restructured to accommodate newer tenses, such as the imperfect.

Similarly with our students, they may have the passive voice down in a variety of simple tenses, but when they want to say something more complex, like “the bridge is going to be being built over the summer,” they stumble. In order to put an end to their plateau, learners need to add complexity to their output. Richards (2008) suggests that this can be accomplished in three ways: by addressing the language prior to the activity, addressing the language during the activity and addressing the language after the activity.

The Language Before the Activity

First, by address the language prior to an activity, he means pre-teaching the target language and providing students with a chance for rehearsal. Now, I am sure I am not alone when I say that I rarely begin a lesson without some sort of pre-teaching. If students are going to have a conversation about, for instance, pets,

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Friday, October 25, 2013

The Flat Bits in the Middle – Part I: The Gap Between Production and Reception

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
EAL Instructor, British School of Brussels
jonestamara@hotmail.com

I was recently reading the magazine, “Runner’s World,” and I came across an article called “Reboot, Refresh” about plateauing. The article basically points out that “every runner eventually reaches a period in their training where their progress levels off.” Apparently this plateauing is inevitable, and it is easy (at least for a slowpoke like me) to understand how a straight, climbing trajectory of improvement would be physically impossible.

As I read this, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between the plateaus that frustrate runners’ dreams of personal bests and the plateaus that we notice in our students’ English development. Just as “[o]ver the course of a running life, there are natural peaks and valleys – and flat lines in between,” I have noticed my students’ English skills grow, recede and stagnate. In my experience, this leveling off seems to happen when students are trying to move from Intermediate level to Advanced. Many of them simply give up, deciding that their language skills are sufficient for their purposes. But, some struggle on, and eventually they become advanced and then proficient users of English. So, what made the difference for those students? How do some students make it through plateaus and what can I do to help?

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Look at It. Listen to It. Talk about It.

Richard FirstenBy Richard Firsten
Retired ESOL Teacher, Teacher-Trainer, Columnist, Author

There were lots of times during my years of ELT when I went nuts trying to think of clever ways to stimulate my students’ willingness to participate in conversations. What could I do to get them to use all the grammar and vocabulary and intonation that they were internalizing – I hoped – and make it all come together? Well, I found four gems to help me accomplish this goal and to inspire my own creativity. Three were visual; one was auditory. I wish I had created these terrific aids, but alas, I didn’t. What I did do, however, was use what I had found and then create more of the same on my own.

It was so long ago (back in the mid-1970’s, I believe) that I can’t even remember how I was introduced to this, but I started using a wonderful visual aid called Longman’s Progressive Picture Compositions, created by Donn Byrne, and published, of course, by Longman. There was a “pupil’s book” as they called it, which I didn’t use, but there were four large wall charts that could be placed on the chalk board sill, each chart showing one of four pictures that would tell a complete story together, as you can see here. I discovered that I could use these progressive pictures starting with lower intermediate students (in a more rudimentary way) and go all the way to the most advanced students in our program.

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Monday, October 11, 2010

Small Talk. Not So Small After All?

By Ela Newman
Instructor in Developmental Writing and in ESL
University of Texas at Brownsville

newjgea@aol.com

Hi there!  How are you? Teaching anything new this semester?

– No, huh uh.  Mostly conversation courses.  But I like them.

– Using a good textbook?

– Yeah.  It’s full of good exercises.  But you know what?  I’m thinkin’ it really needs another chapter.

– Yeah? On what?

– Well, on the language that people use as, well, “time fillers” when they’re in the lunch room, at the bus stop, in the elevator, or wherever.

– I know what you mean.  Small talk.

– Yes, exactly.

– Yeah.  You may be right.  Well, good luck in those classes.

– You too. Bye!

– Bye!

How often is small talk a part of life in the classroom?  Perhaps not often enough.

The majority of the curricula I’ve followed, and most of the textbooks I’ve used in conversation classes, haven’t focused much on small talk, as such. Yes, there have been units on greetings, the weather, and family – typical topics for short, casual conversations.  Students have learned how to thank someone, how to apologize to people, how to ask for directions, and even how to inquire about someone’s plans for the weekend.  Yet these “how-to matters” tend to be presented as separate topics, often in different units.  They are not usually treated together, under a heading like “small talk.”

How often is small talk a part of life outside the classroom?  Daily.

Students must be able to cope with everyday small talk; they must be able to produce appropriate small talk.

Considering the frequency of its occurrence in daily conversations as well as its very real influence on how we are viewed as interlocutors, small talk could well deserve a regular place in ESL classrooms, classrooms which attend to communicative competence.

If we take account of its impact on reducing learners’ nervousness about spontaneous communication in L2, we also realize that “mastering” the art of small talk can lower students’ apprehension of speaking, which is crucial to their success.

Because people generally think that the language of small talk is “simple language,” and because small talk conversations can’t be considered demanding in terms of their length (lasting only a few minutes ordinarily), it’s crucial that language learners feel they can “handle” small talk.

Students shouldn’t have to say to themselves (as I have done!): I’ve been studying English for a few years but I still feel uncomfortable holding short and simple conversations.

But how can we teach small talk?

Certainly not in “topic isolation mode.”  Typical small talk “talking points” can be integrated.  We mix small talk with more serious conversation in real life; something similar can be done in the classroom.  Brief, casual conversations about the weather, complaints, health, appearance, family, apologies, compliments, plans, etc. should be held regularly, and can, with a little coaxing, involve most or all of our students over time.  Such conversations make great warm-up activities.

Sample Small Talk Warm-Up Activity

Keep a stock of cards with phrases like “Great party!”, “It was nice seeing you again”, “Let’s have lunch some time”, “You look busy”, or ‘‘I haven’t seen you for a while,” etc. Ask students, as they come in to class, to take one and then to mingle among classmates, initiating small talk with the phrase provided.

We can also incorporate activities that promote rapid, spontaneous responses also helps.  After all, small talk may be brief, but it is fast-paced!

Sample Activity for Eliciting Short, Fast-Paced Responses.

Also using cards with phrases or sentences representing a variety of topics, such as “Is this the only kind of dessert you have?”, “May I interest you in our new model of PC?”, “I’ve had a headache all week.”, “Where have you been all day?”, and “You OK?”, we can involve students in a kind of group task.  Students, in turn, draw a card and read out its phrase or sentence to another student in the group.  This should, on each occasion, prompt a brief conversation between the students (one lasting not more than 30 seconds or so).  We can sound a bell, clap our hands, or indicate in some other way, that a small talk conversation in progress should end and that a new one should begin.

I’ve found that material for lessons on small talk can often be gathered from everyday conversations I’ve heard or from those my students have heard.  If you start paying attention to such conversations, you may well get the impression, as I have, that the variety of small talk questions and answers is astonishing.

Need to run.  Take care!